How to make better decisions, and overcome overthinking

Worried woman hugging a pillow, unable to make better decisions
Worried woman hugging a pillow

As you know, most of the time, we all know exactly what we need to do in order to reach our goals, albeit some moments of uncertainty when overthinking stalls us from taking action. This stems from not knowing if what we know as a “good option” is actually the best and easiest way to ultimately achieve what we really want. How can we make better decisions in moments of uncertainty?

Sometimes, we wonder if what we think we want is actually what’s best for us, or if we’re making a mistake. And knowing this for sure helps us determine if to proceed—if the task is worth our effort—, hence, give us a reason to rectify or the motivation we need to be able to carry on.

As you know, life is not only about making good decisions but also about acting on them. Those that always make and act on good decisions will eventually achieve all their goals in life. But, is there a way to always make and act on good decisions?

My goal in this article is not to explore why people knowingly or unknowingly make and act on bad decisions, but to sum up a few pitfalls we encounter when making decisions, how to overcome them, and how to always find the best possible option and stick to it. So, let’s go.

The pitfalls we encounter when making decisions

When making decisions, we sometimes encounter some pitfalls that end up sabotaging our decisions, leading to undesired results. Some of the pitfalls we encounter when making decisions are:

  1. Overthinking
  2. Self-deception.
  3. Wishful thinking.
  4. Confirmation bias.

1. Overthinking.

One of the major problems we encounter when making decisions is overthinking, which can lead to analysis and choice paralysis.

Analysis paralysis (or paralysis by analysis) describes a process when overanalyzing or overthinking a situation can cause forward motion or decision-making to become “paralyzed”, meaning that no solution or course of action is decided upon.

Choice paralysis is when decision-making is suppressed in an unconscious effort to preserve existing options. Overthinking triggers an overload of options that can overwhelm the situation and cause this “paralysis”, rendering one unable to come to a conclusion.

A simple solution that has been proposed to solve this problem is to reduce our options. But this solution triggers a new problem of its own, in an endless loop… How can we reduce our options? How do we know which options to eliminate?

2. Self-deception.

Another problem we encounter when it comes to making good decisions is self-deception.

Self-deception involves unwillingness or disinterest in accepting logical arguments without revealing any self-knowledge of the deception. There are reasons why we all encounter this pitfall every now and then — e. g. as a defense mechanism — , but again, in this post, we are not focusing on reasons but on an easy way out of the problem. So, how do we break away from self-deception if we can’t even be aware of it? Before we take a look at possible solutions, let’s take a look at the next two pitfalls.

3. Wishful thinking.

One of the biggest mistakes we make is wishful thinking. You want something to be true even if it isn’t true. And so you ignore the real truth because of what you want to be true. Wishful thinking is somewhat related to self-deception. While self-deception is about denying the truth, wishful thinking is about hoping something is true even as you’re aware it most likely isn’t.

4. Confirmation bias.

Last but not least, is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. People display this bias when they select the information that supports their views, ignoring contrary information, or when they interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing attitudes. The effect is strongest for desired outcomes, for emotionally charged issues, and for deeply entrenched beliefs. When overclouded by confirmation bias, a person will find themselves in a situation where their efforts are unfruitful. The feelings of being stuck, like nothing is working out as it should.

How to make better decisions more easily

As you must have noticed — probably, even experienced — , it can be quite daunting to overcome these pitfalls. You could spend several sessions with a psychotherapist and the solution could still be far away. So, I’m going to try my best to offer an easy way out in this post. Mind you, though, this solution is for productivity. The solution I’m going to offer below is neither for comfort nor preference and will only really work if you’re willing to make the necessary sacrifices you need to make, on your way to reaching your goals. 

In the next section, I will show you a few tips that will help you use high-performance thinking to achieve your goal.

Use this chess grandmaster trick to make better decisions and overcome overthinking

kind knocked off chessboard, how grandmasters make better decisions
King is knocked off the chessboard

Do you like playing chess? Yes? Great, me too! 

No? It’s okay. You don’t have to be a chess fanatic to use a chess grandmaster trick to make better decisions.

You see, in the game of chess, after both players move, 400 possible board setups exist. After the second pair of turns, there are 197,742 possible games, and after three moves, 121 million. At every turn, players chart a progressively more distinctive path, and each game evolves into one that has probably never been played before. With infinite possibilities comes infinite likelihood to make a mistake. But the greatest chess players in the world frequently end up in a stalemate. Does that mean they never make a mistake?

How I learned

When I started getting into chess, This fact fascinated me and I wanted to know how they did it. First, I was told the brain must be trained seriously to think in “chess” from a very young age. It wasn’t possible to become a chess master if you start playing chess after the age of 20. That was a bit disappointing… I learned chess rules quite late. Not like I have a very strong interest in becoming a chess grandmaster, but to support my “anything is possible” mindset, I did a little more digging and found out this claim wasn’t true at all. Apparently, Howard Staunton didn’t start taking chess seriously until he was 26.

In a game of infinite possibilities, how can two players find a way to end up in a stalemate? The trick is to focus on finding a good move (in the current situation) and discarding billions of possibilities without even bothering to give them a thought. Find the option that works and spend your energy developing that option to ensure its success instead of wasting your energy contemplating other options. But, how do you find and recognize the option that works best? By using what I’d like to call “pure common sense.”

How to use pure common sense to make better decisions

First and foremost, what is common sense?

Common sense is described as a sound practical judgment concerning everyday matters, or a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge that is shared by (and common to) nearly all people. But, hehe, as they say, common sense is not very common nowadays…

Common sense is usually understood as the reasoning that helps you see and understand a decision more clearly. It is regularly based on personal perspective and fed by personal preferences, desires, and limited knowledge in today’s multicultural societies.

There are actually two types of common sense: good sense and folk wisdom. Good sense can be described as “the knack for seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done”. Folk wisdom means “instinctive idea of what’s right or wrong, as engrained by the culture of origin.” Hence, common sense ideas emerge from lived experiences of those that perceive them.

Let’s use the phrase “pure common sense,” then, to signify the idea of common sense that rises above the limitations of the general understanding of the term. How can we use pure common sense to make better decisions? By using it to find a “better good.”

How to use pure common sense to find the better good decision

Don't eat the cake, make better decision
Don’t eat the cake

Let’s have one more chess anecdote. 

Back when I was at the university, one day in the mathematics recreation room, I was struggling to find a way to execute a chess endgame strategy I had come up with. I was playing against my laptop at a relatively weak level. So, “it must be possible,” I thought. But again and again, I hit a dead end. I then reached out to a more experienced fellow. He checked my game and immediately told me to give up on that strategy and start all over. Well, what can I do?

If you’re struggling to make something work, ask for a more experienced person in the subject matter and do as you’re told, regardless of what your beliefs are.

Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity

Seneca

In chess, as I mentioned earlier, it’s all about choosing an option that works and discarding the rest. If you’re steady with options that work, sooner or later the option that works best will come across your way. And that’s how you break out of a stalemate and win. It almost sounds like luck. But then, as Seneca said: “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity.

Conclusion

The best thing you can do when making a decision is to use pure common sense to find the better good decision. The better good decision is the one that works best among all reachable options. When you find one option that works, hold on to it. Pick the next option and compare it to the first. If the second option works better, pick the second. On the contrary, discard it immediately and check the third option. If the third option is better than the previous two, go with it. If not, discard it and go with the previous one that worked. Don’t waste more time and energy in comparing the remaining options.

If you pick a better good decision now, even if it’s not the best possible option, you will eventually get another opportunity to pick an even better option further down the road. You will only lose the opportunity to pick a better option if you pick one that doesn’t work at any point. 

Don’t ever pick an option based on its difficulty level. Focus on what works, and get help to execute the option that works if needed.

If you train your mind this way, with the same tenacity as chess enthusiasts train their minds to think in chess, you’ll soon be able to easily make better decisions.

2 thoughts on “How to make better decisions, and overcome overthinking”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.